Who knew one piece of kit could get your whole body burning? Here’s five of our favourite strength training exercises you can do with a kettlebell.
There’s a lot of fancy exercise kit nowadays, from TRX’s to bands and weighted balls. But the humble kettlebell is not to be underestimated. While it’s a small piece of kit, perfect for at home workouts, packed into that piece of metal is the potential for countless moves and a ton of strength gains.
In fact, kettlebell training can make you very strong pretty quickly: in one study, eight weeks of kettlebell training improved participant’s core strength by 70%.
It’s for that reason that kettlebells are favoured by fitness trainer Caroline Bragg. But she also loves them for being more functional than other pieces of equipment, like dumbbells or barbells for example. “The shape and uneven weight distribution of the kettlebell means your body has to work harder to stabilise itself,” she says. That means a tougher workout, better balance and stronger muscles. Win, win and win.
Here are Caroline’s favourite ways to workout with a kettlebell, so you can reap those benefits too.
- Hold the kettlebell by the handle with both hands and hinge at the hips
- Taking the weight down towards the floor, keeping your legs, back and neck straight.
Once you’ve nailed the correct form with these, go heavy. “20kg plus,” encourages Caroline. “You work the whole of the posterior chain, which is quite weak in most of us from sitting all the time.”
Kettlebell swings have been proven to make you both stronger and more powerful. That’s why Caroline loves them too: “When performed correctly they can are extremely effective for building strength and cardiovascular health. Again, this should be heavy as you need the weight to create momentum.”
The key is to move the kettlebell between your legs by squeezing your hips and glutes, rather than simply swinging your arms. There are a few variations: Russian Swings bring the kettlebell up to chest height, American Swings have the arms come up overhead.
“This really works the core and mimics everyday movements to improve functionality,” says Caroline. Try doing a farmers carry, which is where you hold the kettlebell by your sides, or if your shoulder stability is good, lift the kettlebells overhead while you walk, engaging the core and keeping the shoulders squeezed down.
“Our spine is meant to move in four planes of movement: flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion. We tend to lose the mobility for lateral flexions in the spine as we age, so doing side bends are great to maintain that strength,” says Caroline.
- Warm up for this move by doing controlled rocks side to side with your body weight.
- Then load with a light to medium kettlebell gripped in one hand, lean towards the opposite side.
- Pull back up with control.
Bent over rows
“Pulling actions are key in a workout to balance out the pushing we do day to day, like opening doors and pushing prams, and in our workouts, like overhead lifting,” says Caroline.
The crème de la crème of pulling movements is the bent over row, as it requires control, balance and strength. As we know by now, adding in a kettlebell will train those skills even more, too.
- Simply hinge at the hips so you’re almost at a 90° angle, with your arms gripping the weight by your side.
- Pull upwards, squeezing the muscles between the shoulder blades.
- You can make it harder by doing them unilaterally, with legs in a lunged position, which will work on stability of the core.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).